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Postgame: LSU 63, New Mexico State 7

Brandon Harris made a big push for the starting QB job Saturday. (AP)

Brandon Harris made a big push for the starting QB job Saturday. (AP)

The Game Story

Brandon Harris traded in a headset for a helmet.

LSU traded a game-managing sophomore for a gun-slinging freshman.

Inserted for a struggling Anthony Jennings, Harris completed his first five passes, threw for 178 yards and sparked the 17th-ranked Tigers to a 63-7 win over New Mexico State on Saturday night in what may have been a rousing opening act for a new era at quarterback for LSU.

Finish reading.

For full post-game coverage of the win over New Mexico State, click here.

The Turning Point

When Brandon Harris hit Malachi Dupre for a 27-yard touchdown, that about did it. The TD pass gave LSU a 28-0 lead with 4:06 left in the first half. It was Harris’ second series of the game and showed that the Tigers QB was on his way to a spectacular performance.

The Stars

  • QB Brandon Harris: The freshman only came in and led LSU to touchdowns on his seven drives. He completed 11 of his 14 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for another score. He sparked the Tigers and might have won the starting QB gig, though coach Les Miles is reserving the decision until next week.
  • RB Leonard Fournette: The former No. 1-ranked recruit in the nation rolled up 122 yards on 18 carries, an average of 6.8 yards a carry. Fournette made some spectacular cutbacks, and he said after the game that things are “slowing down” for him. He’s being more patient, and you can tell.

    Kendell Beckwith had a pick 6 Saturday. (Bill Feig)

    Kendell Beckwith had a pick 6 Saturday. (Bill Feig)

  • LB Kendell Beckwith: The backup middle linebacker seems to be moving into a starting role. He played possibly more significant series in the game than starter D.J. Welter, and Miles pointed that out afterward. Oh, and he returned a tipped pass for an interception in the first quarter.

The Surprises

  • Jennings’ troubles: Anthony Jennings had turned the ball over once in the first four games of the season. In the first 11 minutes Saturday, he threw two interceptions and lost fumble. He finished 2 of 5 for 11 yards in a stunningly poor showing that might have lost him the starting job.

The Key Matchup

  • LSU’s receivers vs. NMSU secondary: The Tigers and QB Brandon Harris had their way with the Aggies secondary. Receivers were wide open for much of the game.

The Numbers

  • 363: Rushing yards for LSU
  • 256.1: Harris’ passer rating in just seven drives on the field
  • 65,000: The estimated crowd at kickoff

The Quote

“When that guy comes into the game, he just makes plays for us.” WR Travin Dural about Brandon Harris

Game Day: LSU vs. New Mexico State

It's a big day for Brandon Harris. (Bill Feig)

It’s a big day for Brandon Harris. (Bill Feig)

This post will have pregame updates starting about three hours before kickoff.

UPDATES

  • 6:20: DT  Davon Godchaux and CB Rashard Robinson were announced as starters.
  • 6:13: Davon Godchaux ran with the starting group in place of Quentin Thomas, who’s out with an injury. Greg Gilmore served as the backup at defensive tackle along with Lewis Neal.
  • 6:05: Kendell Beckwith was running with the No. 2s at middle linebacker, and Rashard Robinson ran with the starting group at cornerback.
  • 6:03: Frank Herron will not dress out, an LSU spokesman confirmed. Herron was injured in an off-the-field incident. His status for the rest of the season is uncertain.
  • 6: LSU redshirt freshman Frank Herron is not warming up with other defensive tackles. He appears to be the tackle who Miles said earlier this week was hurt.
  • 5:40: Anthony Jennings was taking snaps from starting center Elliott Porter during warmups, and Brandon Harris took snaps with Ethan Pocic.
  • 4:50: LSU quarterbacks have taken the field for warmups. Anthony Jennings is with them. Jennings injured his left shoulder against Mississippi State. Coach Les Miles said Jennings has been practicing and is expected to start.
  • 4: LSU’s depth chart shows no real changes.

  • 3:40 p.m.: Shot of Tiger Stadium.

The Info

  • Match: No. 17 LSU (3-1) vs. New Mexico State (2-2)
  • TDP: 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Tiger Stadium
  • TV: SEC Network (Tim Hart, Matt Stinchcomb, Heather Mitts)
  • Series Record: LSU leads 1-0

Players To Watch (LSU)

  • QB Brandon Harris: All eyes on the freshman, right? After leading LSU to a near improbable comeback last week against Mississippi State, Harris might have a chance to enter a competitive game for the first time since he got three second-quarter snaps against Wisconsin. His performance is key to future playing time this season.
  • LB Kendell Beckwith: Coach Les Miles said earlier this week that  Beckwith will see more game action than he’s had in the past going forward. Sounds as if the backup middle linebacker impressed coaches with his play against Mississippi State. The defense overall – including starter D.J. Welter – struggled against the Bulldogs.
  • C Elliott Porter: The Tigers’ center has been at the center of criticism on LSU’s offensive line. Porter has struggled in his return. He missed the first two games with a suspension and hasn’t seemed to find his groove over the last two games. Miles said Porter is getting better.

Players To Watch (New Mexico State)

  • WR Teldrick Morgan: The Aggies’ 6-foot, 185-pound receiver has 31 receptions for 464 yards and four touchdowns this season. He’s New Mexico State’s go-to wideout.  He has 10 receptions for 157 yards and two touchdowns on third down.
  • RB Larry Rose III: A true freshman, Rose is averaging nearly 100 yards rushing a game. The real thing to watch – LSU’s defensive tackles. They need some big stops after being gashed by Mississippi State last week.
Malachi Dupre has burst onto the scene for LSU. (Bill Feig)

Malachi Dupre has burst onto the scene for LSU. (Bill Feig)

Key Matchups

  • LSU passing vs. NMSU secondary: This is where the little guys normally struggle. We don’t expect that to change in this game. LSU’s receivers, specifically Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre, have a steep talent edge against the Aggies secondary.

How They Win

  • LSU: The Tigers need to take advantage of what should be several mismatches in the secondary. Look for some long bombs and some long runs from a frustrated and angry LSU team.
  • New Mexico State: Turnovers. The little guy only has a chance if LSU commits a host of turnovers.

The Opponent

  • Sagarin rating: 184
  • Best win: No. 138 Cal Poly 28-10
  • Worst loss: No. 143 New Mexico  38-35
  • Sagarin strength of schedule: 182
  • Record vs. Sagarin Top 30: 0-0

The Series

Last 10

  • 1996: LSU 63-7

The Spread

LSU -43

LSU bowl projections: Week 5

LSU started the season in Houston with a win over Wisconsin.

Could the Tigers end their season in Houston as well with a trip to the Texas Bowl?

That’s the pick of several national bowl projections after LSU’s 34-29 upset loss Saturday to Mississippi State.

Going into the State game, LSU’s projections were dominated by predictions of a trip to the Capital One Bowl and even included predictions of trips to CFP bowls like the Orange and Peach.

After losing to the Bulldogs, a number of projections have dipped to bowls LSU has never visited, such as the Music City Bowl (Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tennessee) and the Texas Bowl (Dec. 29).

Of the 11 bowl projections we’ve listed, three each have LSU in the Texas, MusicCity and TaxSlayer bowls. The latter bowl, formerly known as the Gator, is Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Two projections, those from ESPN’s Mark Schlabach and CollegeFootballMadness.com, still optimistically have LSU making a return trip to the Outback Bowl. Schlabach has the Tigers facing Nebraska, while the other website has the Tigers taking on Ohio State.

In a related bowl note, Capital One has shifted its sponsorship from the Capital One Bowl in Orlando to the Orange Bowl, which will now be known as the Capital One Orange Bowl.

The Capital One Bowl will now be the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, bringing back part of its former name, the Florida Citrus Bowl.

Bowl bids will be extended Sunday, Dec. 7:

BOWL PROJECTIONS

  • Bill Bender, The Sporting News: TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Clemson
  • David Ching (LSU and SEC blogger) and Max Olson (Big 12 blogger), ESPN.com: Texas Bowl vs. Oklahoma State
  • CollegeFootballMadness.com: Outback Bowl vs. OhioState
  • CollegeFootballNews.com: Texas Bowl vs. West Virginia
  • Brad Crawford, SaturdayDownSouth.com: Music City Bowl vs. Virginia Tech
  • Jason Kirk, SBNation.com: Texas Bowl vs. TCU
  • Brett McMurphy, ESPN.com: TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Louisville
  • Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com: Music City Bowl vs. Louisville
  • Brant Parsons, Orlando Sentinel: Music City Bowl vs. Louisville
  • Mark Schlabach, ESPN.com: Outback Bowl vs. Nebraska
  • Phil Steele, PhilSteele.com: TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Michigan

 

BOWL GUIDE

  • Texas Bowl: Dec. 29, Houston
  • Music City Bowl: Dec. 30, Nashville, Tennessee
  • Outback Bowl: Jan. 1, Tampa, Florida
  • TaxSlayer Bowl: Jan. 2, Jacksonville, Florida

Pick 6: Q and A with an opposing beat reporter

Jason Groves, the sports editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News, left his desert home, skipped past some cacti and arrived in southern Louisiana to join us on this week’s Pick 6!

Pick six!

Pick six!

Not really. He probably just typed these answers out from his office computer and emailed them to us. That’s not dramatic enough though.

You can follow Jason at @JPGroves and read his work here. He supplies us with some answers to our questions on New Mexico State:

1. Where is New Mexico State’s strength and why?

New Mexico State’s strongest unit is its offense, more specifically its offense through the air, where the Aggies are averaging 266 yards per game. NMSU is also going to the no huddle at times, where they ran 92 offensive plays last week against New Mexico.

I think what makes NMSU’s passing game so effective against the teams they have played so far is the team’s strongest units coming into the season were the offensive line, where NMSU had five four starters returning, and at wide receiver. NMSU’s offensive line isn’t large, but they are good pass protectors and sophomore quarterback Tyler Rogers has been quick to get rid of the ball.

NMSU hasn’t allowed a sack this season. Most of the passing game is to the perimeter though, bubble screens, wheel routes so we will see how effective that is as teams see those on film. NMSU’s receivers are solid, but Teldrick Morgan has emerged as a clear favorite target. If his current 8 catch per game clip continues, Morgan is on pace to break the school record for receptions for a single season.

2. Where are the Aggies the weakest and why?

Running the football and defensively. I thought NMSU may have found a game breaker at running back with true freshman Larry Rose III, but he hasn’t been the same since injuring his knee against Georgia State. Brandon Betancourt and Xavier Hall are both tough runners for their size, but NMSU hasn’t gotten the running game going so far.

Defensively, NMSU is extremely young and undersized. To make that worse, there is no depth as there is a 15 scholarship short fall. Historically at a place like NMSU, defensive line is the hardest position to recruit here. The three linebackers are probably the best players on the defense. Through four games, the Aggies secondary hasn’t given up the big play, but NMSU has primarily played running teams thus far.

3. New Mexico State coach Doug Martin said this week that the Aggies are bringing a knife to a gun fight. Clearly, they’ll be out-manned. How is the team approaching a game like this?

As an independent school last year, NMSU played several of these games, most notably at Texas. I don’t think the Aggies will be intimidated so to speak, but they are certainly out manned.

NMSU beat Georgia State for a Sun Belt win and they play Georgia Southern at home next week. It’s a chance for a 2-0 league start, which is what NMSU is more focused on I think. I think they want to try to cut down on the two TOs per game and come back healthy. If they can do that, I don’t think it would be a bad trip.

4. Mississippi State and Wisconsin had success in running right at the middle of LSU’s defense. Is this a plan New Mexico State will use?

I can’t see NMSU running up the middle against LSU or anyone for that matter. I think NMSU wants to be balanced, but so far, the best running plays the Aggies have had is the bubble screens and short throws on the perimeter.

5. LSU’s offensive line has struggled mightily lately. What can the Tigers’ O-line expect to see from New Mexico State’s front seven?

I think NMSU’s linebackers, Rodney Butler, Derek Ibekwe and Dalton Harrington are pretty good, but they are all underclassmen. LIke I mentioned before, there isn’t a lot of depth and the fact that most are undersized underclassmen, I don’t think the Aggies are strong or physical enough this year to stop a big offensive line.

UTEP and UNM ran at will late in the game against NMSU. I think NMSU would like to run more stunts and slant the defensive line to slow the run as the season goes on. They haven’t done a lot of that to this point of the season.

6. If an LSU and New Mexico State fan meet Saturday night in Baton Rouge, what would they most have in common?

Nothing on the football field. NMSU is a massive rebuilding program, normally ranked in the bottom 10 programs in the country entering every season while LSU is LSU.

If anything, I think perhaps fans could compare a common like for spicy food – LSU fans with cajun and NMSU fans always like to brag about their green chile

Times of interest: LSU vs. New Mexico State

(ANGELA MAJOR)

(ANGELA MAJOR)

8:30 a.m.                               LSU SportShop opens
Noon                                    Ticket office opens
1:30 p.m.                              Tiger One Village opens (front of PMAC)
2:30 p.m.                              Startisan performs Zatarain’s Tiger One Village
2:30p.m.                               L-Club Tailgate (Legends Club at PMAC)
3 p.m.                                   TAF Tailgate Party (PMAC)
3:30 p.m.                              Club level and Suites open at Tiger Stadium
3:45 p.m.                              LSU Student gates open at Tiger Stadium
4 p.m.                                   All remaining gates open at Tiger Stadium
4:20 p.m.                              LSU walks down “Victory Hill”
4:35 p.m.                              Mike VI comes down Victory Hill
4:40 p.m.                              Band comes down Victory Hill
6:04 p.m.                              Mike the Tiger and LSU Cheerleaders field parade
6:22:30 p.m.                         Golden Band from Tigerland takes the field for pregame
6:27 p.m.                              Alma Mater and National Anthem
6:33:30 p.m.                         LSU intro video
6:35 p.m.                              LSU takes the field
6:36 p.m.                              New Mexico State takes the field
6:36 p.m.                              Coin toss at midfield
6:39 p.m.                              Kickoff: LSU vs. New Mexico State on SEC Network   

Wednesdays With Les: Jennings should start; more playing time for Harris, Beckwith; band talk!

Les Miles and LSU look to move to 4-1 this week. It might be the last guarantee win on the schedule. (Getty Images)

Les Miles and LSU look to move to 4-1 this week. It might be the last guarantee win on the schedule. (Getty Images)

LSU coach Les Miles, on Wednesdays during game weeks, speaks publicly three different times. Follow his comments here throughout the day.

Radio show

Les Miles suggested that Thursday’s practice is a key determining factor in how LSU might use freshman quarterback Brandon Harris and sophomore Anthony Jennings in the game against New Mexico State.

Thursday’s drills are “very important to how we see the week,” he said.

Other notes:

  • Miles said earlier this week that he and his coaches would have to improve. Asked how, he listed different areas. Signaling in plays better and having the correct personnel on the field were the top two. Players said there was some miscommunication on the defensive side during Saturday’s loss to the Bulldogs.
  • Miles was asked about the offensive and defensive lines and running the spread offense: “Our lines were not good in that game. … I think there’s some spread in our future considering both QBs are mobile.”
  • Several callers didn’t have a question, but, rather, told Miles to open up the Tigers’ offense by using the spread instead of running the ball. One asked the coach to stop ”plunging running backs into eight-man fronts.”
  • Miles on O-line: “Center’s again coming and playing better.” He said Ethan Pocic will play right guard, as expected.
  • Miles asked about why he LSU didn’t pass against State more and why they had a run-heavy game plan against a team that struggled against the pass: “I think you’ll look forward to seeing more balls in the air as we go forward.”
  • Miles suggests that LSU would line up receivers Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural on one side of the field to attract four defensive backs and then “we will crush you” running the football, the coach said.
  • Miles on the team’s morale: “Not necessarily are we in the highest of spirits. Everybody is working hard. Contact and hard work and those things are going to bolster that morale.”
  • Freshman offensive lineman Will Clapp is playing center and both guards, Miles said. LSU is looking at “an opportunity to get him on the field,” he said.
  • A caller complained that the PA music in Tiger Stadium is too loud and that the band doesn’t play enough. Miles said he would take the complaint to administrators. “I’m not really keyed in on the music (during a game), but I will take this to our administrators because that is a beautiful stadium, storied historic place and that band should have an opportunity to play.”

Post practice

Anthony Jennings should start against New Mexico State, but freshman quarterback Brandon Harris has closed the gap “some,” Miles said following Wednesday’s practice.

Read that full story here.

  • Miles said Lewis Neal, a 255-pound converted defensive end, will be the Tigers’ No. 3 defensive tackle behind starters Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux. Godchaux is expected to start in place of Quentin Thomas, who is out at least a week, and maybe two, with an inured left biceps.
  • Miles says backup middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith will play “a lot of football in this game” and he’ll play more than he played last week going forward, the coach said. He did not say if Beckwith would start in place of D.J. Welter.
  • Miles on Wednesday’s practice: “Not a lot of smiles at practice. Making sure they get it right. Coaches barking pretty good.”
  • One of the three backup redshirt freshmen defensive tackles is injured, Miles said. That includes Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain. The coach, when asked, would not reveal what player is hurt.

SEC teleconference

Les Miles continued to say that true freshman quarterback Brandon Harris will see more playing time after he helped LSU turn a rout into a close game in the final few minutes of the loss against Mississippi State.

Harris went 6-of-9 for 140 yards and threw two touchdowns in the final four minutes of the game. Anthony Jennings is expected to start Saturday.

“I’d have to think he’ll see some playing time based on his advancement,” the coach said. “Both (Jennings and Harris) are competing. That’s just what we want. We’ll play (them) in a like fashion we have. Harris will get a little bit more playing time.”

It appears that Harris, at least according to Miles, isn’t a complete quarterback just yet.

“The importance is to function in all of the pieces at the QB spot. That’s coming for him,” Miles said of Harris.

  • LSU is studying and has studied New Mexico State, but Miles said the Tigers are “kind of taking this week to … work one on one and spend some more time on technique.”
  • Miles on the team’s response after a home loss in September, a rarity at LSU: “Like the teams we’ve had in the past, if you finish second in a Saturday contest, that next week of preparation is important.”
  • LSU’s struggles Saturday against Mississippi State wasn’t scheme, but execution, the coach said. He gave credit to Mississippi State: “Dak Prescott and Dan Mullen had them ready to play.”

Twitter Mailbag: The QB situation, the season’s outlook and defensive linemen

Brandon Harris is the talk of the town. (Bill Feig)

Brandon Harris is the talk of the town. (Bill Feig)

Twitter Mailbag is a blog series running each Tuesday answering readers’ questions about the LSU football team. Readers submit their questions through Twitter each Tuesday, and the best are posted here with answers. Follow us on Twitter at @DellengerAdv to submit a question.

This is an easy one: Yes.

We wrote about this Tuesday after coach Les Miles told reporters during his Monday press conference that Harris deserved more playing time after his performance late in the game against Mississippi State.

Look, much of the reason LSU started Anthony Jennings this season is because Jennings knows the offense and is careful with the football. The Tigers planned to rely heavily on their running game and defense this season, but those units aren’t impressing.

It might be time to explore something else: a consistent passing game with Harris. The talented dual-threat guy has proven that he’s got a gun, pocket presence and speed.

I watched a replay of the game, and did not notice this.

I did notice that after Diarse dropped a pass, he made a gesture toward Jennings. It’s unclear what the gesture was. Did he mean to give him another chance and throw him the ball again? Or was he signaling that Jennings threw him a poorly timed pass?

Through four games, Jennings has been inconsistent. One of his biggest weaknesses has been timing. It seems that he throws the ball too soon upon the receiver breaking from a route. That may have happened with the pass to Diarse, which the receiver dropped. Several receivers have dropped passes after Jennings tossed them a pass when breaking a route.

Barring an injury, you might be waiting until next season for Beckwith. That’s not to say he’s played poorly, but I’d be surprised if LSU would pull a senior in D.J. Welter. Everyone wants to point fingers at Welter, but Beckwith made mistakes Saturday, too. That said, Beckwith got off a few blocks Saturday and looked good in making tackles.

Now, for the others: I’m also not sure if Harris starts a game this season. Keep in mind that he’s a true freshman. The kid was playing in high school last year. I think it could happen, though, especially if Jennings is injured. He suffered what appeared to be a minor injury Saturday.

Ah, Jamal Adams. Of the three you mention, Adams would be the most likely to start a game this season. He’s a guy coaches love. As a true freshman, the kid has seen tons of playing time. He appears to be LSU’s No. 3/4 safety, getting in games in dime/Mustang packages.

I think the coaches realize that Harris is the more talented of the two. Miles said that over the summer – that Harris is the more naturally gifted QB.

But, as I wrote above, Jennings is the safe guy. He’s talented, too. He’s got a strong arm, he knows the offense and he’s safe with the ball. But it appears that LSU’s defense and run game may not be as strong as some would have thought. That means a passing game is needed – that might mean Harris. Give it time, and Harris might see more action – or take over the job.

Not sure what “solid” means. I assume … at least eight wins? Let’s just go with that. How can LSU get to eight wins?

They might have to pull off an upset. Home wins over New Mexico State, Kentucky and Ole Miss (and Kentucky is improved and Ole Miss is a good team) would give LSU six wins. The Tigers would need two more wins. Here’s the rest of the schedule: at Auburn, at Florida, vs. Alabama, at Arkansas, at Texas A&M.

LSU could be the underdog in each of those games. Obviously, the Tigers have the best chance to win in games at Florida and at Arkansas. But still…

No. I don’t think Miles will ever completely ditch the I-formation. He’s stubborn when it comes to that stuff. An old Big Ten guy, Miles likes the two-tight end run strategy.

At the same time, there’s no doubt that at least Harris is a shotgun-spread QB. He works better out of the shotgun, running that read-option. LSU has shown glimpses of that, but we haven’t see it on a consistent basis. We haven’t seen Harris on a inconsistent basis either. When that happens, maybe LSU moves more toward the shotgun-spread stuff.

In the meantime, bite your upper lip.

We’re all still waiting for redshirt freshmen Greg Gilmore, Maquedius Bain and Frank Herron to play on a consistent basis. These guys were expected to be part of the rotation at defensive tackle, and they’ve played sparingly.

If there’s any area hurting in depth right now, it’s that position. LSU needs one of these guys to step up, but I’m not sure it will happen. After all, the Tigers have played a guy with a torn biceps (Quentin Thomas), a true freshman (Davon Godchaux) and have moved a 250-pound defensive end to tackle (Lewis Neal).

I have no idea. But you know what? When you don’t see a player playing, guess what that means? He’s probably not good enough to play. Same with Bain, Gilmore and Herron.

When players are surpassed by other players, that’s never a good sign for the former player. Malachi Dupre has passed Avery Peterson and Quantavius Leslie. That said, if LSU does play Brandon Harris and does begin to open its offense, maybe more of these receiver get time on the field.